500 W. Fort Street (001) Fort Boise Officer’s House/Building Number 1
Architect: Charles May
Over Mother’s Day, my father and I visited the Veteran’s Home to deliver flowers to female veterans. Seeing as this project was coming up, we then drove past some of the old buildings on Officer’s Row. The sandstone Officer’s House caught my eye, and I decided to do my report on it. I only discovered that the entirety of Fort Boise had been done already after my interview had been done, and by that time it was too late to select another building. I interviewed Josh Callihan Public Affairs Officer at the US Department of Veteran’s Affairs. With the information he gave me, coupled with additional research both online at the Idaho Historical Society and the Statesman along with the book Building Idaho by Jennifer Eastman Attebery, I have assembled the following information.
Following the discovery of gold in the area around Idaho City, it became apparent to embattled Union Commanders that something had to be done to safeguard what could be a valuable and lifesaving source of income. Therefore they dispatched recent West Point graduate Major Pinkney Lugenbeel to establish a fort between the mines of and the major trading hub that was the Boise River. Before construction of the fort could begin, Lugenbeel was forced to contend with a region that was scarcely populated, lacked mills, quarries, blacksmiths, kilns, and brickyards. He and his forces set about creating basic infrastructure to support a larger construction project. Notably, they discovered and began excavation of sandstone from the Boise quarry. In addition, they constructed sawmills hired a blacksmith, dug up adobe and lime, and built large kilns necessary to fire bricks. Lugenbeel was fortunate enough to make the acquaintance of an English architect living up the Boise Basin named Charles May who oversaw the construction of the first buildings of the fort.
They selected a hill overlooking an expansive flat to be their Officer’s Row, and set about raising building after building in order to formally establish the fort. The first to be constructed was Lugenbeel’s own home where he and his family could live and work during their time at Fort Boise. The first sandstone slabs that make up the Officer’s House were laid in in 1863 and Building Number 1 was officially completed in 1864. The building was constructed following the common mid-nineteenth-century Central Passage style in which the entrance led into a small hallway flanked by two large square rooms. The central hallway also featured a staircase leading up to a second floor with two additional rooms. The home was inhabited by several commanding officers over the decades, and though the floorplan was not changed, the paint on the walls and the carpet on the floors were. Today, the rooms are notably smaller than they once were as a result of the many layers of paint laid on top of each other.
The Officer’s House and the rest of Fort Boise were instrumental in the founding of the greater city, and were actively staffed by army forces into the 20th century. The fort was notably utilized as a training camp for cavalry during both the Spanish-American War and the First World War However, during the 1930’s, Depression budget tightening and postwar devaluation of the military led the Federal Government to largely abandon the fort. It lay vacant for close to a decade before the Boise Old Soldier’s Home burned down, and the VA took the fort as a replacement. The Officer’s Home was selected as the primary administration building, and as the office of the VA director. For over a hundred and fifty years, the Fort Boise Building Number 1 has housed the directors of the fort.